the boy who feared the future.
The boy who feared the future.
A work of fiction about the weight of unanswered questions.
It would have been July. A summer night that brings back nostalgic memories. An evening that provoked a journal entry that she recently stumbled upon. It went something like this: “Lawn chairs and the Pittsburgh Symphony only ten feet away; I can see the violinists’ bows moving from the corner of my eye. The music crescendoes and suddenly the world explodes into a million colors and sounds. “Thunk, whistle, POP!” The sky rains sparks, and the courthouse has erupted in multi-hued light and fireworks. He and I have goofy grins on our faces.”
“It’s kind of silly to avoid her hometown just because I know that this summer won’t be entirely too different from last summer, just missing one gigantic piece of the puzzle… isn’t it?” she ponders now. She’s not sure she wants to know the answer, because she doesn’t know if she can change the way she feels either way.
“No,” a friend replies. “One person can change your life drastically.”
Just how much can we change one another? Did anything she said last summer change the way he thought? Does he often avoid her hometown as well?
Because the place has their footprints all over it.
Two feet in sandals standing behind the counter at the café downtown. His were Vans on the other side. She would stand and fold towels, and he’d wait for his order. He knew just the time to come in, when it was almost dead and she’d have time to talk.
There’s that street that curves away from the house and eventually circles back. The footprints are everywhere, from the times they both jogged by here in tennis shoes, to the times when they’d go on walks on warm summer evenings: his, Vans, as usual. Hers a heel, a ball, and five bare toes. They delved as deep as conversation would go, cutting deep with their words into places within them that they’d never let anyone else see.
“Fear and failure are my two best friends,” he told her one night as they strolled arm-in-arm, creating more footprints to be left behind. He was ridiculously casual in the way he said it, but she knew him well enough to catch the tremor behind his voice.
She was silent for a few moments, digesting that. She didn’t know quite what he meant, and she feared the answer. “If you don’t shoot high, you don’t have to try?”
He shook his head. “No… It’s more like… If I don’t shoot high, I don’t have to worry about putting forth my best effort, failing, and being inadequate.”
Something happens when two people share their worst fears with one another. That night, he ceased to be the confident boy in skinny jeans and a hat that shouted, quite literally, “Hi!”
He was just another human being, like her, that had seen the possibilities… and feared.
That afternoon in the park, napping in the golden rays on sprawled pillows and blankets, when the backdrop of sunshine had quickly changed into stormy skies like lights on a stage—she didn’t know what to say to his thoughts that found their way to her almost-sleeping ears. In a whisper as if he were afraid to break the stillness, he said, “Sometimes I fear I’ll be just as dirt poor as my parents, and I’ll end up right where they are, living off of food stamps.”
She planted a quick kiss on his temple. “You’ve got so much going for you, but negativity won’t get you anywhere.” It wasn’t the first time he’d gotten down on himself. She wouldn’t allow him to be daunted by the future, even though the thought of it sent her own stomach into knots. After all, just a few short weeks from now and she’d be packing all her belongings into her car and driving several states away for college. Very far away from him. Very far away from everything she’d ever known. Further away than anybody in her family had ever dared to go.
If only she could have known that eight months later she’d be standing on top of the cliff she’d just scaled, feeling as though she should be victorious. But she can only think of him, that man that taught her everything she knows about climbing. The rocks themselves remind her of him, the man who she wishes she could hate but is only reminded of the deep way in which she understands him. Fists clenched tight, she wishes she could blame him for running back to all of his vices the moment that sorrow came calling. But she can’t.
Because he was the one that, on the nights when his thoughts managed to form words, would hand to her the very questions that had been plaguing her mind for years.
She still sits at the same desk as she had that night, when she’d held the phone to her ear with shaking hands, tears streaming down her cheeks as she got out her scissors and determined to cut the heartstrings that had been stretched several hundred miles too far. There had been things she’d learned being far away that she’d wanted to share with him. They were things that would have no choice but to change the hearts and minds of two lost souls that felt as though they were rubberbanded to their sin, running toward the Lord as hard as they could, but always springing back. “You are a beloved child of God that has no need to fear condemnation, and you have the ability to approach the throne of God with confidence.”
“You don’t know how much I hate hearing that.” It sounded as thought he said it through gritted teeth.
She sobbed harder. His anger took her off guard. “I don’t understand. Why would you hate hearing that?”
“Because I’ve tried for so long to believe it, to no avail. But I just can’t.”
The next day would show her bruised lower lip from that moment when she’d bit down hard, trying to hold back the throb. She won’t ever recall having cried so embarrassingly hard ever again. She was at a loss for the answer, for again he had presented to her the very issue that had for years made her heart pump pain rather than blood.
For so long they’d thought themselves orphans, lost sheep that the Shepherd didn’t seem too inclined to find, this time.
Contrary to how they lived and thought and breathed, they knew all the right answers. But sometimes, “God loves you,” just isn’t enough to keep away from the drugs, the alcohol, the sex, the things that dull the pain just for now.
She was several states away when she hung up the phone, surrounded by Bible college students that wouldn’t allow her to do anything reckless. He, on the other hand, was in small-town Pennsylvania, just a few more footsteps from the very things that he knew could soothe the cracks in his broken heart—the things that felt good when “God loves you,” remained trapped in the confines of his brain, struggling to make it those eighteen inches south to the freshly-broken organ leaking blood and tears and raw, unquenchable hurt.
She has the answers now, for they’ve managed to make the journey from her head to her heart. Yet it feels entirely selfish to have found them when she doubts she will ever share them with him. For though his footprints will always be there, he is far away—leaving his questions forever lurking in the Colorado air, black, plaguing, unanswered.
In the end, she is still afraid of endless summer nights in her hometown, because this summer, the word “endless” won’t be quite as wonderful as it was then.
Neither him nor his footprints own her hometown.
But his unanswered questions do.